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The quality panopticon in higher education: A comparative analysis of France & England

Torabian, Juliette; (2018) The quality panopticon in higher education: A comparative analysis of France & England. Doctoral thesis (Ed.D), UCL (University College London). Green open access

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Abstract

This qualitative research study compares the local construction of ‘quality’ through national and institutional discourses and practices in France and England. It examines their impact on the daily practice of academics in the cases of Sciences Po Paris and London School of Economics. The study adopts a social constructivist epistemology, a multiple case study design, and uses a Foucauldian discourse analysis to interpret the data. The data is gathered through an analysis of policies, quality codes, and audit reports, as well as twenty qualitative semi-structured interviews with officials in quality agencies, institutional managers, and academics. Many analyses of quality assurance systems in higher education have likened them to Foucault’s metaphorical ‘panopticon’; the conceptual framework of this study initially uses the concept of panopticon and modifies it by integrating Clark’s (1983) triangle of coordination and Ball’s (1994) policy cycle. The findings reveal that the State plays an important steering role: in France through project-based funding and in England by setting and updating quality norms. In England, a focus on students’ satisfaction (which in reality is a manufactured concern) has led to discourses focussing on ‘value for money’ and ‘excellence’ and has created a shared quality culture across Higher education institutions. This facilitates academics’ practice, particularly for the newly recruited contractual lecturers. In France, quality is taken as a static condition associated with the prestige and selective admission processes of the grandes écoles. This, in addition to the binary divide between universities and the grandes écoles and longstanding bureaucratic rigidities, has inhibited the creation and implementation of a shared quality culture. This has an especially negative impact on contractual teachers’ practice while permanent academics are hired and perform based on national frameworks. This research is of significance as it, a) examines quality policies and practices in France which is an understudied topic; b) provides a comparative analysis of socio-historical events and State policies as well as elite institutions’ practices that have shaped the local definition of quality in higher education in England and France; c)critiques Foucault’s panopticon in light of the current developments in higher education quality governance, its multiple interest groups, and their power relations; and, d) argues that quality systems may have an empowering impacts on academics.

Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Qualification: Ed.D
Title: The quality panopticon in higher education: A comparative analysis of France & England
Event: UCL (University College London)
Open access status: An open access version is available from UCL Discovery
Language: English
UCL classification: UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > School of Education
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > School of Education > UCL Institute of Education
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > School of Education > UCL Institute of Education > IOE - Education, Practice and Society
URI: https://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/id/eprint/10041871
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